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Depression in Children

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Which Children Get Depressed?

About 2.5% of children in the U.S. suffer from depression. Depression is significantly more common in boys under age 10. But by age 16, girls have a greater incidence of depression.

Bipolar disorder is more common in adolescents than in younger children. Bipolar disorder in children can, however, be more severe than in adolescents. It may also occur with, or be hidden by, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or conduct disorder (CD).

What Causes Depression in Children?

As in adults, depression in children can be caused by any combination of factors that relate to physical health, life events, family history, environment, genetic vulnerability and biochemical disturbance. Depression is not a passing mood, nor is it a condition that will go away without proper treatment.

Can Depression in Children Be Prevented?

Children with a family history of depression are at greater risk of experiencing depression themselves. Children who have parents that suffer from depression tend to develop their first episode of depression earlier than children whose parents do not. Children from chaotic or conflicted families, or children and teens who abuse substances like alcohol and drugs, are also at greater risk of depression.

How Is Depression Diagnosed in Children?

If the symptoms of depression in your child have lasted for at least two weeks, you should schedule a visit with his or her doctor to make sure there are no physical reasons for the symptoms and to make sure that your child receives proper treatment. A consultation with a mental health care professional who specializes in children is also recommended.

A mental health evaluation should include interviews with you (the parent or primary caregiver) and your child, and any additional psychological testing that is necessary. Information from teachers, friends and classmates can be useful for showing that these symptoms are consistent during your child's various activities and are a marked change from previous behavior.

There are no specific tests -- medical or psychological -- that can clearly show depression, but tools such as questionnaires (for both the child and parents) combined with personal information can be very useful in helping diagnose depression in children. Sometimes those therapy sessions and questionnaires can uncover other concerns that contribute to the depression such as ADHD, conduct disorder, and OCD.

 

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